Ivy Day in the Committee Room: Summary and Analysis
Old Jack: caretaker of headquarters
O’Connor: young political canvasser
Hynes: canvasser whom others suspect of working for the rival side
Henchy: a canvasser
Crofton: a canvasser
Lyons: a canvasser
Richard Tierney: politician running for office in the Royal Exchange Ward and for whom the canvassers are working
Father Keon: de-frocked priest and friend of Tierney
Charles Stewart Parnell: (dead) Irish Revolutionary in whose honor ivy is worn on the lapel to commemorate anniversary of his death
On the anniversary of the death of Irish political leader Charles Stewart Parnell, several political canvassers meet at headquarters to compare progress and discuss an upcoming campaign. Although they all believe they’re skilled pollsters and persuasive political manueverers, they are very cynical about their candidate, Richard Tierney, and the Dublin political process in general. They also fear that they might not be paid by Tierney; furthermore, he’s even failed to deliver a complimentary case of Irish stout as promised.
As the canvassers converse with the caretaker of headquarters, other canvassers come and go, several checking to see if the money—or the stout—has been delivered. A de-frocked priest and friend of Tierney’s, Father Keon, also appears but leaves almost immediately.
Finally, a boy delivers the stout to headquarters, and all of the canvassers partake of the alcohol, including the boy, whom they invite to drink before he departs. Suddenly, the canvassers are considerably more generous about Tierney than they first appeared, but another member discloses that he suspects one of the canvassers (Hynes) of betraying their campaign and working with a rival politician. They further question whether Edward VII is any more suitable a political leader than was Parnell during his lifetime, and the conversation switches to Parnell.
The group of canvassers becomes nostalgic for Parnell and prevails upon Hynes to recite a poem he had written on the death of the leader. After his reading, the group applauds.
James Joyce was highly politicized as a child by his father, a fierce supporter of Irish nationalism and Charles Stewart Parnell, the leader of its cause at the time. When a love affair scandalized Parnell’s name, he was ostracized by the very Irish masses who worshipped him and—in 1891—died after having been betrayed by many of his supporters. The concept of betrayal and Ireland’s parochial and unforgiving stance toward Parnell, left a profound effect on the nine year-old James. These themes are a constant in his writing and very strong in this story, which takes place on the anniversary of Parnell’s passing. To commemorate Parnell, the canvassers wear a sprig of ivy on their lapels.
Contradictions in this story abound, from the small and subtle to the large scale. O’Connor is described as a “grey-haired young man” with a “husky falsetto” voice. Although all the men are canvassing votes for Richard Tierney, none likes him and all distrust him, calling him “Tricky Dicky” and referring to his “little pig’s eyes” and unscrupulous character. In light of their distrust, it’s ironic that the men willingly campaign for him, promising one voter that “He’s a respectable man.”
Ironies include their reversal of opinion about Tierney after the politician sends the promised case of free alcohol to their headquarters. Before Tierney sends the complimentary stout, all the men accuse him of miserly and unfair practices; everyone anticipates being cheated of wages. After the delivery, they decide that Tierney is “not so bad after all. He’s as good as his word, at least.” Clearly, a case of alcohol goes a long way in redeeming the sender’s character. This, too, gives evidence of the men’s weak political commitment, their mercurial judge of character.
They delight in having the stout and drink it eagerly, offering a bottle to the delivery boy as a tip. After he’s gone, however,...
(The entire section is 1,153 words.)